The executive director of the Wyoming Rescue Mission in Casper issued a challenge to state legislators last week, asking them to help fund a shelter for the unhoused in Fremont County.
The number of Fremont County residents utilizing the Rescue Mission in Casper has more than doubled this year, Hopkins said, increasing from about 13 per month to “in excess of 30-plus the last four months,” including “a lot of single moms and kids connected to the (Wind River) Reservation.”
The Rescue Mission has been working with residents in Fremont County who are interested in starting their own homeless shelter, Hopkins said, and he would “sure love the committee to figure out how to seed-fund a half-million dollars for that group to leverage and spring things forward.”
“A shelter in Riverton is not a cure-all, (but) it’s a step,” he said. “Help us get a small homeless shelter started in Riverton.”
Later in the meeting, former legislator Pat Sweeney referred to another effort being spearheaded by the Northern Arapaho Tribe to provide shelter for the unhoused in Fremont County.
“I think their goal is to try to find a way to do something on the reservation and near their clinic,” he said. “That may help.”
Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho Tribal liaison Anita Roman mentioned the housing effort during this week’s meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations, explaining that the Northern Arapaho Business Council had asked her to do some research on the topic before participating in a tour of shelter facilities throughout the state – including in Gillette and at the WRM in Casper.
“In those tours we were able to … look at needs, costs, scopes, what the intake process looks like, (and) really what the cost would look like to have one of those facilities here on the reservation,” she said. “It was just a really awesome process, and it was really important (for) the council to be able to understand and see the scope. …
“I think they’re going to be moving forward with something as soon as possible, because we are getting into the cold months.”
Northern Arapaho Tribal Housing recently built 20 new homes on the reservation, Roman noted, but an estimate from October showed a need for 400 more, “just (on) the Northern Arapaho side.”
“That’s a lot of under-housing,” she said.
‘Nobody fesses up’
Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, took the opportunity during last week’s Judiciary Committee meeting to follow up on a recent report that a busload of unhoused individuals had been sent to Casper from Fremont County.
“I’m still trying to get to the bottom (that),” he said. “Nobody at home knows anything about it, (and) nobody fesses up. … It’s kind of crazy.”
He didn’t get any answers during last week’s meeting, either.
Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, added to the conversation by questioning the use of the word “homeless” to describe unhoused individuals in Fremont County who “have a home (but) don’t want to go there because there’s not alcohol.”
Rules barring alcohol consumption also keep those individuals from utilizing the local support programs that are available, she noted.
“Just doing a sober living in Riverton, nobody wants to go there,” she said. “(So) just putting it under the heading of … ‘homeless’ and poverty and that doesn’t actually catch the problem.”
Hopkins estimated that up to 40 percent of clients at the WRM “are homeless directly due to addiction,” calling it an “astronomical problem” – but he also pointed to “tremendous downward pressure right now, economically, on the poor.”
“Look at the census data,” he said. “Ten percent of our state’s population qualifies as impoverished. (There are) a lot of issues with our economy and our dollars going less far right now.”
The Judiciary Committee didn’t take any action on the topic of homelessness last week, but Wyoming Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said legislators should “pay attention to this” in the “long-term.”
“Every other state is receiving populations that need a desperate amount of help,” he said. “If we think we’re not going to get them here in our state, (we’re) just not facing reality. …
“It’s coming. Everything I read says that we face a potential avalanche of populations that frankly need every bit of help that we can give them.”